The Rožmberks opens at Wallenstein Riding School

Photo: CTK

The Rožmberks, a lavish new exhibition, opened on Thursday at the Waldstein (Wallenstein) Riding School, looking back at one of the most prominent and influential Bohemian noble families. The Rožmberk dynasty dates back to the 13th to 16th centuries, with its members holding key positions in the royal and later imperial courts. The castle at Český Krumlov, admired by countless visitors in South Bohemia today, was the family seat for three hundred years.

Photo: CTK
The exhibition brings together an unprecedented 600 or so artefacts, from gothic statues and stained glass, to biblical scenes including the life of Christ, portraits, tapestries, sets of armour and much, much more. Following on the footsteps of similar exhibitions marking the legacies of Charles IV or Albrecht of Wallenstein, the Rožmberks is not to be missed.

Petr Pavelec is the exhibition’s commissioner, who agrees that pinpointing one or two highlights in such an extensive show is not at all easy:

“With one more than 600 pieces it’s difficult to underline only a few… but there is Rosa rosensis, an illuminated manuscript from the 15th century which is a poem celebrating the noble family, which was never before exhibited. Another item is a portrait of the famous noblewoman Perchta of Rožmberk and there are also personal letters connected to the legend of the White Lady. The show is full of works and objects that have their own stories which are fascinating. Some of the most remarkable - unknown until now - are portraits of the most famous of Rožmberks, Petr Vok.”

Petr Vok, photo: Barbora Kmentová
According to Mr Pavelec in his interview for Czech Radio, the works mentioned depicting Vok – who was the last of Rožmberks and died 400 years ago, inspiring this exhibition and others under the umbrella project Year of the Rožmberks – reveal him as a member of the Order of the Skull, an order he helped found. Petr Pavelec again:

“We knew the Order existed but until now we didn’t know its appearance and these portraits tell us a lot. In addition, in the exhibition you can see a dominant portrait of Vilem of Rozmberk on his death bed. Informally, we refer to it as the ‘Portrait of the Dead King’, because it is a truly majestic painting of a man who for 50 years played a principle role in the state.”

Most Czechs, especially residents of South Bohemia where the family’s roots and emblem of the five-petal rose is most widespread, know of the Rožmberks’ importance. Petr Pavelec suggests their influence, as well as legend, was almost unrivalled. The exhibition commissioner once more:

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
“There’s no question that the Rozmberks, alongside other major dynasties that were the Premyslids, Luxembourgs, Jagiellonians or the Habsburgs, were the first real aristocratic family in Bohemia. Nota bene, the first constitution governing the Estates, dating back to 1500, clearly states in its first paragraphs that the Rozmberks sit to the king’s right and rank the very first among the nobility. This was a codification and confirmation of their importance.

“For the Rozmberks, though, even this legal confirmation wasn’t enough! They wanted to make their name even more famous through myth. The family legend was that they were related to the Orsini family in Rome, who themselves were descended from the mythical Roman hero and founder of the Roman nation Aeneas, son of Venus. So it is these kinds of stories at the exhibition that can be experienced and no lover of history, and no South Bohemian patriot, should miss it!”

Not surprisingly, the exhibition – with so many facets from art, to history to medieval architecture, required extensive research and organization from countless specialists across a number of separate organisations – from the National Gallery and National Institute for Preservation of Historical Monuments' branch in České Budějovice to Prague Castle and the Czech Senate. There was also cooperation with numerous private owners, countless other institutions and smaller museums and galleries.

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
Remarkably, the show took only a year-and-a-half to prepare; asked how the idea to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the last Rožmberk, Petr Vok, who died in 1611, Petr Pavelec said the idea had come to him while driving his car and listening to a Czech Radio programme about the noble family. That set in motion, the exhibition at the Wallenstein Riding School’s gallery and other events. All the different facets, says Jaroslav Pánek of the Academy of Science’s Institute of History, make The Rožmberks essential to see:

“When you take this exhibition you see it as an extended hand to the public focussing on ‘roots’, national culture and its ties to a broader European culture. Roots, ideas and ways of thinking about one’s own past. The study of these topics takes place primarily at the Academy of Sciences and a number of universities. One area of study is the Rožmberk library, the remains of which are spread across all of Europe. Other aspects are economic and social questions, questions over how the dominion was created, financed and run. These are all different aspects addressed.”

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
As for individual pieces in the show, besides the several already mentioned, viewers should take special note of world-famous work by the Master of the Třeboň Alterpiece (also called the Master of Wittingau) who was active in the years 1380 to 1390. The show features two famous works by the Gothic painter: the Adoration of the Child at Hluboká and the Resurrection, showing the emaciated Christ standing above a stone coffin sealed shut. The painting differs in that more conventional works depicting the Resurrection with a divine and glorious Christ emerging from an open tomb.

In short, visitors can easily lose themselves for half a day at the Wallenstein Riding School, going from item to item, eying original glass containers, full sets of armour, paintings and forgotten manuscripts. The layout of the show itself is cool and serious, designed in a ‘conservative manner’, one of the architects who worked on the project, Jan Roháč says:

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
“We decided to keep the design low-key and fairly conservative to allow the viewer to study the pieces themselves. Basically, there is a front foyer as visitors enter the show, which is then broken into two columns with smaller rooms, kind of like chapels. The other big division is the Medieval period and the newer age. We think the exhibits themselves should be allowed to stand out, not the design, and that defined our approach.”

The Rožmberks continues at The Wallenstein Riding School throughout the summer until August 20th. Find more information at ngprague.cz